Global CIO: The Myth Of The Social-Misfit, Business-Bozo CIO - InformationWeek

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Commentary
5/24/2010
05:12 PM
Bob Evans
Bob Evans
Commentary
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Global CIO: The Myth Of The Social-Misfit, Business-Bozo CIO

Piling on to the popular myth that CIOs know tech but nothing else, a new study's flawed conclusions show that the real know-nothings are the researchers.

Here's our latest installment in our week-long "IT's Golden Opportunity" series, in which we take a look at the harmful stereotypes still dogging CIOs.

First the bad news: another so-called "research study" has come out purporting to prove that CIOs are slide-rule dweebs knowing nothing about business, leadership, and strategy. To make the matter much worse, the authors have published a column about their so-called "findings" in the high-profile Wall Street Journal.

The good news is, the "research" and all its pointy-headed findings have all the credibility of Tiger Woods because they are based on assessments carried out across 11 years with about 30 CIOs. Let me repeat: based on interactions with about 30 CIOs across 11 years.

The trick, you see, is that the three researchers from Santa Clara University who brewed up this hokum will defend the CIO-damning headline on their piece—"Why CIOs Are Last Among Equals"—by saying that their work includes "extensive assessments" of "senior administrative capabilities" of more than 600 professionals. But only "some 30" of those 600 were, in fact, CIOs--the rest are "professionals" and no doubt are terrific people but one thing they are certainly not is CIOs.

But that certainly didn't stop the researchers from mischaracterizing their skills and personalities as those of CIOs—as in, "Why CIOs are last among equals" and "Are CIOs doomed to forever be second-class citizens among top executives?"

Yes, about 30 CIOs out of 600 people evaluated. That's about 5% of the sample size, sprinkled daintily across 11 years. That means that these three "experts" on the CIO profession engaged with, on average, one CIO every 134 days spread out across more than a decade. But from such thin gruel they were able to shape a caricature of today's CIO—as we shall see in their own blunt language in just a moment—as clueless on everything from strategy to business to leadership to communication to listening to building relationships to covering LeBron James on a fast break.

To paraphrase Charles Dickens' immortal Bumble the Beadle, "If that is expertise, then expertise is a ass." As we've discussed recently, these days the skewering of CIOs as nitwits in every context except Unix kernels has become popular sport, and it seems these three opportunistic professor-types have decided to pile on in spite of their stunning lack of evidence for doing so.

Global CIO
Global CIOs: A Site Just For You
Visit InformationWeek's Global CIO -- our new online community and information resource for CIOs operating in the global economy.

And—to the researchers' marketing credit, if not to the credit of their research rigor and relevance—their summary article about their findings appeared in the Wall Street Journal, a high-profile media property whose perspectives will surely help shape current perceptions of CIOs and reinforce the canard that CIOs know blade servers inside and out but wouldn't know a customer from a line of custom code.

Worse yet, the researchers took their findings from "assessments" of about 570 "IT professionals" and extrapolated them to the vastly more-demanding realm of the CIO, and in spite of that felt absolutely no compunction about making a wide range of devastating claims about the gross inadequacies of CIOs, including these:

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